Mission to study 'dark energy' gets OK

June 20, 2012 at 8:11 PM

PARIS, June 20 (UPI) -- European space officials said Wednesday they have given the go-ahead for a mission to explore the universe for dark energy and dark matter.

The European Space Agency's Euclid mission has received final approval from ESA's Science Program Committee to move into the full construction phase, leading to a launch in 2020, a release from ESA's Paris headquarters said Wednesday.

"This formal adoption of the mission is a major milestone for a large scientific community, their funding agencies and also for European industry," ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration Alvaro Gimenez Canete said.

Euclid will use a 4-foot-diameter telescope and a near-infrared camera/spectrometer to map the 3-D distribution of as many as 2 billion galaxies and dark matter associated with them, spread over more than one-third of the whole sky, ESA officials said.

Scientists say they hope the mission can help answer one of the most important questions in modern cosmology -- why is the universe expanding at an accelerating rate, rather than slowing down due to the gravitational attraction of all the matter in it?

Astronomers still do not know what force could cause this cosmic acceleration.

The term "dark energy" is often used for this unknown force, but by using Euclid to study its effects on the galaxies and clusters of galaxies across the universe, astronomers say they hope to come much closer to understanding its true nature and influence.

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